Brain CandyBrain Candy 

Book Review

Brain Candy:
Boost Your Brain Power With Vitamins, Supplements, Drugs and Other Substances--A Comprehensive Guide
Theodore I. Lidsky, Ph.D., Jay S. Schneider, Ph.D.
(Fireside)

"Even drinking something as seemingly benign as grapefruit juice can lead to drug overdose," according to doctors Theodore Lidsky and Jay Schneider. Brain Candy, a comprehensive guide to vitamins, supplements, and drugs, is a book to read for the information, not for any particularly literary merit. The writing is direct and functional. But how else, except for through a book like this, could one know to abstain from grapefruit juice while taking prescription drugs for hypertension? "...it has been discovered that grapefruit juice will affect the liver in such a way that certain drugs to treat hypertension are not broken down and eliminated from the body as quickly as they should be." The result? Certain illness and possible death.

Kava kava is a supplement sold for a small fortune among the endless tinctures at Nature's and New Seasons. Clinton, it was reported, took kava kava while meeting with foreign dignitaries. It's a sedative, a muscle relaxant, offering relief from social anxiety along with improved digestion. It's a gentle, legal, non-prescription way to handle stress. According to this book, kava kava can become lethal. "This drug can cause scaly skin rash (direct effect) but more important, when combined with barbiturates (taken for insomnia and epilepsy) can cause overdose with potentially fatal results."

Coumadin mixed with aspirin means fatal hemorrhaging. Mix in Ginkgo Biloba and you're surely a goner. Coumadin is prescribed to offset the risk of stroke or heart attack. It's the same reason some self-medicate with a daily aspirin. Ginkgo Biloba is meant to increase circulation to the brain in order to fight Alzheimers. If you're trying to be really preventative, you might avoid a stroke and memory loss by inviting a self-induced fatal hemorrage.

"How do I know a drug is worth taking?" This chapter title is the question at the core of the book. Along the same lines, there's a corresponding question: How do I know a supplement is worth the asking price, or that it even contains a pure version of what it's said to contain? After a few introductory chapters offering a brief overview of neurochemistry, the book gets down to the business of looking directly at the positive and negative effects of common drugs, vitamins, and supplements. The authors look at what they call the risk/benefit ratio of side effects to medicinal qualities. By now, we've all heard about those weight-loss supplements that can cause runny anal discharge. That's a risk/benefit analysis left up to the consumer.

If you're treating Parkinson's disease with Eldepryl, Deprenyl, or Selegiline, stay off the Prozac and all other serotonin-reuptake inhibitors. Otherwise, the results are potentially fatal. No matter what the illness or the dream goal, avoid mixing internet-ordered wonder drugs. In general, avoid ordering internet drugs at all, since most haven't been adequately tested. There's a reason they're not sold over-the-counter, and it's not only about patenting. There's a reason the sales person, the pusher, is hidden in cyberspace.

Gerovital, or GH-3, is an internet-available formula meant to fight off "arthritis, migraine, both high and low blood pressure, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, herpes, impotence, balding, heart disease, poor eyesight..." and other plauges of humanity. According to this book, the same drug can lead to brain dysfunction, inducing tremors, unconsciousness, convulsions, and respiratory arrest.

If you're taking Dilantin, for seizures, avoid: Alcohol, Amiodarone, Chloramphenicol, Chlordiazepoxide, Valium, Disulfiram, Dicumarol, estrogens, H-2 antagonists, Isoniazid, Ritalin, Phenothiazines, Phenylbutazone, aspirin, Succinimides, Sulfonamides, Tolbutamide, and Trazadone. That means, read your labels carefully and watch out for those new-age juice drinks full of randomly collected rain forest debris.

Every section details the history of the drug, the degree of testing completed, and any associated side-effects. The focus is on brain function and memory in relation to particular drugs. The list of drugs covered isn't as comprehensive as possible, but offers good reasons to think twice before over spending on big promises.

The authors explain that overall, negative emotions such as depression inhibit memory retention and learning ability. Conversely, a sense of well-being offsets illness, reducing the need for drugs that may interfere with learning. And, according to the authors, "...certain drugs have no influences on memory per se, their beneficial cognitive influence stems from their ability to induce feelings of well-being. Based on this, it is plausible that positive mood directly facilitates learning and memory."

The mind is an intricate instrument, and the body's organs only somewhat more blunt and adaptable. Nobody knows exactly how even the most common of prescription mind and body altering substances work. What seems to be clear is that happier equals healthier. So if you're taking drugs, you might do best with the ones that make you feel okay.

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